c. 1200, "in life, living," contraction of Old English on life "in living, not dead," from a- (1) + dative of lif "life" (see life). The full form on live was still current 17c. Of abstract things (love, lawsuits, etc.) "in a state of operation, unextinguished," c. 1600. From 1709 as "active, lively;" 1732 as "attentive, open" (usually with to). Used emphatically, especially with man (n.); as in:
[A]bout a thousand gentlemen having bought his almanacks for this year, merely to find what he said against me, at every line they read they would lift up their eyes, and cry out betwixt rage and laughter, "they were sure no man alive ever writ such damned stuff as this." [Jonathan Swift, "Bickerstaff's Vindication," 1709]
Thus it was abstracted as an expletive, man alive! (1845). Alive and kicking "alert, vigorous," attested from 1823; Farmer says "The allusion is to a child in the womb after quickening," but kicking in the sense "lively and active" is recorded from 1550s (e.g. "the wanton or kicking flesh of yong maydes," "Lives of Women Saints," c. 1610).
updated on August 17, 2020